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Access to low cost computers is an important part of preparing students for the information economy of the future. Because a school district may buy hundreds of computers at a time, it is essential to understand the options. For several years, Chromebooks have dominated the school computer market due to their low price ($150 to $300) – about half the price of a comparable Windows computer. Chromebooks have a low price because they use a version of the free Linux operating system. There are less expensive options than Chromebooks. One of these is Raspberry Pi. Initially, Raspberry Pi was just a simple circuit board which cost only $25 – but did not include a monitor or keyboard. Also Pi was slow and had very little memory. It therefore was not suitable for running word processing, image editing or video editing programs. However, recently, a new version of Raspberry Pi, version 3 B Plus, has been introduced which has a faster processor and more Memory (aka RAM) needed to run common programs. Like Chromebooks, Raspberry Pi uses a version of the free Linux operating system. There are now also accessories or kits which can be added to Raspberry Pis to make them more functional. These accessories include monitors, keyboards, battery packs and web cams (all of which come included with Chromebooks). These accessories bring the price of the Raspberry Pi 3 B Plus up to about $200. Since this is also the price of the Acer Chromebook 11, in this article we will compare the Raspberry Pi 3 to the Acer Chromebook 11 and provide several other low cost computer options to help parents, students, teachers and school administrators better understand the trade-offs between these two low cost school computer options.

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First, it is important to note that both the Acer Chromebook 11 and Raspberry Pi 3 B Plus require some work to make them fully functional.


Raspberry Pi requires about one hour to assemble. Several wires need to be connected each time it is used. The Acer Chromebook 11 does not require any assembly. But it comes with a “stripped down” version of the Linux operating system called Chrome OS. Chrome OS is little more than a web browser. It has very limited access to the thousands of free Linux applications available with a real Linux operating system. Thankfully, it is easy to replace Chrome OS with a real Linux operating system such as Linux Mint – which can be added in less than one hour and then gives students access to thousands of free Linux programs. For instructions on how to change the Acer Chromebook operating system, see the following link: https://learnlinuxandlibreoffice.org/3-create-your-own-linux-computer

Second, a feature of Raspberry Pi is that students can learn about how computers are built and how they work by assembling a Raspberry Pi and connecting all of the pieces together. In fact, for both security and practical reasons, it is much more important for students to learn about how to replace one operating system with another operating system and how to research and install applications and programs than how to hook a few wires together. But if teachers would like their students to disassemble and reassemble a circuit board as a learning exercise, it can be done with an Acer Chromebook 11 in much the same manner as a Raspberry Pi. Here is a link to a YouTube video showing how this can be done in less than 9 minutes.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJGSMfBhIG4

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Disassembling the Acer Chromebook 11 with a small screwdriver.

Finally, neither option comes with much storage on the SSD card. But both options come with slots to add external storage. This means students will need to learn how to store their documents and programs on a separate removable or external drive instead of on the computer’s internal drive. They should learn this skill anyway so they can carry their documents and programs home with them. A nice feature of the Acer Chromebook is that it has a flush MicroSSD slot so that you can hide the additional storage.

Computer Selection Should Include Examining All Parts of the Computer
The purpose of a computer is to organize, store and share information. To achieve this goal, a computer has many interacting parts. While there is a tendency to focus only on some parts of the computer, such as the Central Processing Unit (CPU) or the Operating System, in fact, each part of a computer is important. One can have the fastest processor and the most secure operating system, but it will not lead to a fully functional computer if the keyboard for the computer is too narrow to type on. Therefore, when considering computer options, whether for school, business or personal use, it is important to closely examine all of the components of a computer. The following diagram shows the major parts of a computer with important questions that should be considered for each part:

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Because many classes have 30 or more students and classrooms often lack enough electrical outlets, the computer battery can be a very important part. Also because students often have to read instructions from a computer screen, the resolution or clarity of the print on the computer screen is also a very important issue. Finally, application programs, such as word or image processors, have to be compatible not only with the computer operating system but also with the type and speed of the computer Central Processing Unit (CPU) and with the computer Random Access Memory (RAM).

The following table is a summary of the differences between three low cost school computer options. These differences are then discussed in more detail below the table:

Low Cost

School Computer Options

Acer Chromebook

15

Model CB5-571-C1DZ
$250

Acer Chromebook 11
Model CB3-132-C4VV
$200

Raspberry Pi 3 B +
with monitor, keyboard, battery pack and camera
$200

CPU Type and Speed

Intel Celeron Broadwell 3205U… Dual Core
1.5 GHz

Intel Celeron Braswell N3060… Dual Core 1.6 GHz with burst to 2.5 GHz

ARM Cortex A53
Quad Core
1.4 GHz

RAM

4 GB (+ 4 GB Swap)

4 GB (+ 4 GB Swap)

1 GB (no real swap)

Hard Drive Size & Type

16 GB internal SSD

Replaceable

16 GB internal SSD

Replaceable

SD or MicroSD card

Not included

Screen Size

15 ½ inches

11.6 inches

7 inches

Screen Resolution

1920 x 1080 with IPS

1366x768 with IPS

800x400

Keyboard Size

14 inches (7 inches per hand)

11 inches (5 inches per hand)

6 inches (3 inches per hand)

Graphics Card

100 to 800 MHz

320 to 600 MHz

200 to 400 MHz

Camera Resolution

1280 x 720

1280 x 720

1280 x 720

Battery run time

10 hours

10 hours

1 to 2 hours

Linux OS versions

Unlimited

Unlimited

Limited

Weight

4.9 pounds

2.5 pounds

2.5 pounds

Portability

Fair

Excellent

Poor

Build Quality

Excellent

Excellent

Poor

Software Support

Once Chrome OS is replaced with a real Linux OS, students have access to thousands of free programs.

Once Chrome OS is replaced with a real Linux OS, students have access to thousands of free programs.

Because Pi uses the ARM CPU and only 1 GB RAM, it is limited to programs that support ARM and can run on only 1 GB RAM

CPU Differences
The Acer Chromebook 11 & 15 use low cost Intel Celeron processors while Raspberry Pi 3 B Plus uses a slower ARM processor. This means that the Acers will load and process large documents, images and videos faster than the Raspberry Pi and are less likely to crash than the Raspberry Pi.

However, the biggest problem with the Raspberry Pi ARM processor is that many important free Linux programs do not support ARM processors. Thus, while Raspberry Pi can run a web browser and a word processor like Libre Office, it cannot run a coding editor like Bluefish or an image editor like Pinta or a video editor like Open Shot. Even when there is an ARM version of an application, it will run slower on ARM than on an Intel x86 processor. Note that it is not merely Raspberry Pis that come with ARM processors. Sadly, many Chromebooks also come with ARM processors.

RAM Differences…
The Acer Chromebook 11 has 4 GB of RAM compared to Raspberry Pi with only 1 GB of RAM. 4 GB of RAM is for many uses just as important as having a compatible processor. Many programs, such as the Open Shot video editor require a minimum of 4 GB of RAM. Even programs that do not technically require more than 1 GB of RAM, such as LibreOffice can use the extra RAM when running large documents with dozens of images. Too little RAM means you computer may crash much more frequently causing you to lose any unsaved work. As programs become more complex, even 4 GB of RAM seems like the minimum anyone should have. To address the need for more RAM, Linux has a way to double the amount of RAM by creating a “swap” partition of 4 GB on the hard drive, effectively boosting either Acer Chromebook up to 8 GB of RAM. In Linux Mint, you can tell your current RAM and SWAP by clicking on System Monitor, Resources tab. Note that my Acer Chromebook 15 CPU is hardly even being used. But half of my memory is being used.

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The above image shows that my Acer Chromebook 15 has 3.8 GB of RAM with about half being used by LibreOffice to write this 10 page article. I also have 3.9 GB of Swap Memory available with very little being used. The main thing using all of the RAM is my Linux Mint operating system which is using about 1 GB of RAM. The rest of the 0.7 GB of RAM is taken up with the LibreOffice program and 10 page article I am writing.

But if I were writing a 400 page book or editing a 10 minute video, or coding a very complex web page, or running a LAMP server, it is likely that my entire 3.8 GB of RAM would be used up and my 3.9 GB Swap partition would be put to use. It is important to never run out of RAM not only because not your computer will slow down or freeze more often, but you may also reduce the life of your Solid State Drive as explained further below.

Does a Raspberry Pi 3 have a Swap Partition?
The answer depends on the operating system a student installs on their Raspberry Pi. The most common operating system installed on a Raspberry Pi is called Raspbian (based on Linux Debian). Raspbian does not install a permanent Swap Partition on the Pi SD card. But it does create something similar called a Swap File that is created each time the Pi is turned on. The size of the swap file is set for 100MB. While this amount can be increased, it is not recommended for two important reasons. First, the speed of the Swap File is very slow – making Pi even slower than it was before. Second, a larger swap partition or swap file that is put into constant use will greatly shorten the life of the Pi SD card because SD cards have a limited number of READ/WRITE cycles. Therefore, the two Acer laptops we recommend will have a functional memory that is 4 to 8 times greater than Pi 3.

Internal Hard Drive Differences
The internal Hard Drive is one of the least understood, yet most important components of a computer. Many students (and even their teachers and parents) mistakenly believe that the limiting factor in a slow computer is the speed of the CPU or the size of the RAM. In fact, in most cases, the limiting factor is the READ/WRITE speed of the Hard Drive. With Raspberry Pi, the first 1 GB of data transfer will be fast in Pi and the first 4 GB will be fast in the Acer Chromebooks because RAM memory is much faster than Hard Drive memory. But after that, a Pi computer will slow way down. My research indicated that it will slow all the way down to about 40 MB per second or even less due to the funnel of a USB 2 connector used by Raspberry Pi. https://raspberrypi.stackexchange.com/questions/43160/slow-hard-drive-speed

This is much slower than a old fashioned spinning HDD which is about 100 MB per second. The typical soldered eMMC hard drive found on most Chromebooks is also slow with a READ/WRITE speed of about 50 to 100 MB per second. The removable Kingston SSD that comes with the Acer Chromebook 15 has a speed of about 500 MB per second - 5 to 10 times faster than HDD or eMMC drives. But newer NVME SSDs, which cost $75 to $200, can be used to replace the Kingston SSD increasing the speed to 1,000 or more MB per second. Thus, by getting a $200 laptop with a removable SSD hard drive, and then replacing the SSD drive with an NVME SSD drive, a student, parent, teacher or school district can create a laptop that is actually faster than a $2,000 laptop for a total price of under $300.

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Therefore, an essential feature to look for in a laptop with a removable, replaceable, upgradeable SSD drive – which would allow students to upgrade their SSD to a high speed NVME SSD that is 10 times faster than a normal SSD. The replacement hard drive would also have a storage capacity of 120 to 240 GB or more - 5 to 10 times more than the storage capacity of a normal SSD. While both of the Acer Chromebooks in the above table have removable SSD processors, most Chromebook models do not have removable SSD processors. Instead, they have eMMC processors – all of which are soldered to the circuit board – meaning they can never be replaced.

To the left is a Kingston Removable 16 GB SSD card found in some Acer Chromebooks:

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In the middle is a picture of a super fast $75 Toshiba 240 GB NVME SSD that can replace the Kingston SSD in a matter of minutes. To the right is a picture of a cheap, slow eMMC storage chip soldered to a circuit board. Avoid eMMC based computers!

Here is a post from a forum after a person discovered they could not replace their eMMC drive: “Many low-cost laptops these days claim to have an SSD, but use eMMC memory, instead.  EMMC is garbage. Anyone who sells a device with eMMC memory should be locked up, its like selling a new car with a lawnmower engine in it!”

What is the smallest hard drive you should consider?
The size of the hard drive is also a very important factor because this is not only where you may store all of your documents, images and videos, but also where you will store your operating system, drivers and application programs. File Size is another huge difference between Windows PCs and Chromebooks. While the Chrome or other Linux operating system is less than 10 GB complete with essential application programs like the LibreOffice word processor and image editor, the Windows operating system complete with all required updates and the MS Office program is nearly 30 GB. The Windows October 2018 Update adds another 5 GB bringing the entire required file size to more than 35 GB! In addition, you should be aware that the actual usable size of any hard drive is about 10 percent less than its advertised size. Therefore, a 32 GB hard drive is actually only 29 GB and a 64 GB drive is actually only 57 GB.

So while a 16 GB hard drive may be large enough to handle a Chromebook or Raspberry Pi Linux operating system complete with all applications, if you want to run the Windows 10 operating system, you will need a hard drive that is at least 64 GB. This is huge problem because many low cost Windows laptops come with a 32 GB eMMC hard drive that is permanently soldered to the mother board of the laptop – making it impossible for these low cost Windows computers to run once all of the required updates are loaded. This is why you need to be extremely careful when looking at low cost Windows laptops. Windows laptops will be discussed in more detail later in this article. Even with a Raspberry Pi, which does not actually come with the any hard drive, or with a Chromebook, which typically comes with a 16 GB to 32 GB drive, we recommend replacing the drive with a 64 GB to 240 GB solid state hard drive (or in the case of Raspberry Pi with a 120 GB to 240 GB MicroSD card).

What is the cost difference between an eMMC and a SSD?
The cost of eMMC and SSDs are dropping very rapidly. One study concluded that the prices are falling by about 20% per year. However, as of Fall, 2018, the retail price of a high quality Panasonic 32 GB eMMC is about $40 dropping to $30 for 100 or more units. This means the wholesale price is about $20. The price of a 32 GB King Dian SSD is only $30 while a more durable Transcend 32 GB SSD has a retail price of $50. The newer and much faster Toshiba NVMe 120 GB SSD is only $56. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that the actual cost of a 32 GB SSD is only about $10 more than the cost of a 32 GB eMMC. The key benefit of the SSD is that it can be replaced with a faster or higher capacity SSD if needed. Meanwhile, the eMMC can not be replaced as it is soldered to the mother board. Soldering a low capacity eMMC to the mother board is a concern for a Chromebook as it means the Chromebook cannot be upgraded to a real Linux computer. But it is even worse for a Windows computer because it makes the computer non-functional after just a couple of Microsoft updates. More on this in our section on low cost Windows computers below.

Even with Chromebooks, we do not recommend any model with eMMC storage. Here is a link to a list of upgradeable Chromebooks. If the Chromebook can not be upgraded, then it is likely using a cheap eMMC drive:
https://zipso.net/chromebook-specs-comparison-table/#upgrade

Screen Size and Resolution
Getting an 11.6 inch screen instead of a 7 inch screen is one of the most important benefits of the Acer Chromebook over Raspberry Pi. The 15 inch Acer Chromebook currently costs only $50 more than the 11 inch Acer. Students often have to read text on their computer screen. Even the 11 inch screen can often have blurry words. But the 7 inch screen can make text so small and blurry that one cannot even read it. I personally recommend getting a 15 inch screen as not only does it display text better, but it also allows for having two windows open at the same time allowing students to do side by side editing (for example comparing a document to a browser page).

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Side By Side Editing means having enough screen width to allow two windows to be open and side by side at the same time.

Here is the screen difference between a 15 ½ inch screen and a 13 inch screen. Note that these screens are measured on the diagonal. The actual width of these screens is about one and one half inches less. In other words, the 15 ½ inch screen is 14 inches wide and the 11 ½ inch screen is only 10 inches wide:

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Keyboard Size
Differences
Students also have to do a lot of typing on their computers to complete class assignments. As students get older, their hands get bigger. It is much faster and much easier for students to learn how to type on a normal keyboard that is 11 inches wide than to type out assignments on a tiny keyboard that is only 7 inches wide.

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Battery Runtime Differences
The Acer Chromebook comes with a 10 hour battery whereas Raspberry Pi does not come with any battery – and the most common battery accessory only gives one to two hours of life. This is a very important difference as many classrooms lack the 30 outlets needed to keep 30 Raspberry Pis charged. Even then, the power cords for the Raspberry Pi are very short making charging them with a wall outlet in a classroom even less practical. Given that students only use their computers 4 to 6 hours during the typical school day, Acer Chromebooks will go the entire day and then can be put on chargers at the end of the school day having them ready for another days work by the next morning.

Linux OS Version Differences
There are more than 100 versions of Linux but only about five that have ARM versions. For example, the most popular and easiest to use version of Linux, called Linux Mint, does not come in an ARM version. Even the versions that do exist for ARM, such as Ubuntu Mate, run much slower on Raspberry Pi than they do on the Acer Chromebook.

Portability Differences
Imagine having 30 students in your high school computer class and having to set up and hook up all the wires for 30 Raspberry Pis during the 10 minutes before class. It simply is not going to happen. Even if you have the students make the connections themselves, it will still take the first 10 to 20 minutes of class – leaving only 30 minutes left for instruction. By contrast, once the Chromebooks have been initially configured, all that needs to be done is to pass them out and open them up – a process that takes less than 5 minutes – leaving the entire class to teach students what really matters to their future – which is how to run software programs.

Build Quality Differences
The Acer Chromebook 11 is perhaps the world’s most popular school computer – with millions in use here in the United States. There are nearly 1,700 reviews of this laptop just on Amazon. The average rating is over 4 stars which is amazing for a $200 laptop. The most common complaint has been charging problems – which is due to the small connection on the charging unit – an item is quick and easy to replace. Meanwhile, one of the most popular kits for the Raspberry Pi 3, called the Tempus, has 33 reviews on Amazon with literally dozens of complaints about nearly every aspect of the product. https://www.amazon.com/Tempus%C2%AE-Raspberry-Backlit-Integrated-Keyboard/dp/B00Q7BA6E6?ref_=fsclp_pl_dp_1#customerReviews

Here are just a few quotes:

“Received the Tempus and set it up. After setting up all the cables, and powering the Tempus, the display indicated that it didn't receive the HDMI signal. Further, the package referenced a web site and going there came up with "server not found."

“Pi is a snarl of wires and a lot of hardware. The font on the screen is super small. It's hard to read. “

“Worked for about 3 days, then the LCD screen stopped working. “

“The power cord is not very long and the whole setup is pretty awkward.”

“The mouse feels very cheap and has about 1 inch of wiggle room. The HDMI port stopped working after a while.”

“The keyboard is cramped. The enter key on mine was stuck. The "Premium" case does not assemble properly and the lid will not stay on.”

“Turns out, the HDMI doesn't work. I talked to customer service, and they were so nice, and sent me a replacement. And guess what?! The replacement didn't work either. Don't buy this product.”

“Bought product in May and already in July the HDMI port doesn't work anymore. Lost the box and can't return.”

“The infamous "yellow lightning bolt" icon appeared on the upper right part of the screen, which means that the device was not receiving the required voltage for it to function. I bought another power supply, but it didn't work out either.”

Clearly Raspberry Pis are having a lot of quality control problems. It is hard enough teaching 30 students per class how to use their computers when all of the computers are working correctly. The last thing students and teachers need is a bunch of computers that stop working in the middle of the class.

Chromebook Computer Deals
Choosing a particular Chromebook model can be rather confusing because there are more than one hundred models of Chromebooks with new models coming out almost every month. Only a few of these models are suitable for classroom use as many lack one or more essential features. For example, 23 out of 107 Chromebooks use ARM processors, which as we have noted above tend to be much slower than Intel x86 processors – and do not support as many applications as Chromebooks with x86 processors. Over half of all Chromebooks come with cheap eMMC drives. Even the Acer Chromebook 15 comes in more than ten different options – most of which have flaws. So one should be carefully when looking at bargain basement computers.

However, it is possible to get a very low price on a very good Chromebook. Despite the already low price of many Chromebooks, every month brings a new set of Chromebook deals. For example, the Acer Chromebook 15 – with a 15 inch high resolution screen - is currently being offered for $200 – the same price as the Acer Chromebook 11. A larger 15 inch screen is the best screen size for side by side editing. Refurbished Acer Chromebook 15s go for as little as $150. I have personally got a nearly new Acer Chromebook 15 with a high resolution 1920 by 1080 screen on Ebay for $80 (this is the computer I am writing this article on). For a school district buying 30 or more Chromebooks in a single large lot, it is very easy to get a bunch of Acer or Dell 11 inch, 14 inch or 15 inch Chromebooks for as low as $100 each.

What about the Pinebook 99 Dollar Laptop?
The Pinebook is a 14″ laptop powered by the same Quad-Core ARM Cortex A53 64-Bit Processor used in the Raspberry Pi. Think of the Pinebook as a Raspberry Pi put inside of a laptop but with twice as much RAM - 2 GB RAM, 16 GB EMMC Storage, a full size 11 inch keyboard and a camera for the amazing price of only $99 and a weight of only 2.8 pounds. Here is a link to their website: https://www.pine64.org/?page_id=3707

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Naturally, at this price, there are a few problems. First, the screen resolution is only 1366 by 768 – meaning that text will be a little blurry on the screen making it harder to read. Also, this laptop is not that suited to running Windows. But like any other Raspberry Pi type of computer, you can install a stripped down version of Linux. The recommended version is Xenial Mate. There are links to the download on the Pinebook Community Forum. Like most Raspberry Pis, one is not limited to installing the operating system on the EMMC drive.

The Linux Distro install process is not exactly straight forward. So there is a bit of a learning curve to this laptop. But this laptop and the software it supports are improving all of the time. If they ever replace the ARM processor with an X86 processor and replace the EMMC drive with a removable SSD Drive, and come out with a higher resolution 1920 x 1080 screen, this could be the low cost budget laptop of the future.

What About Low Cost Windows Laptops?
Both Raspberry Pi and Chromebooks install the Linux Operating System in order to keep the total bottom line cost of the computer under $200. But it is not merely the licensing fees of Windows that make any Windows computer about twice as expensive as any Linux computer. The real problem is that while Linux Mint or Linux Ubuntu with all applications and updates takes up less than 10 GB of space on your hard drive, Windows 10 takes up about 35 GB. This means that Linux is 3 to 4 times faster than Windows (depending on the programs you are running). Therefore a Raspberry Pi with a slow CPU and only 1 GB of RAM cannot even run Windows. It can barely run Linux. Even a Chromebook with a faster CPU and 4 GB of RAM will struggle to run Windows. To really run Windows programs, students would need a much faster (more expensive) processor, much more RAM (4 to 8 GB) and much more room on the Solid State Hard Drive (at least 64 GB). All three of these essential features drive up the price of the computer.

Even if a school could afford to buy each student a $400 to $600 Windows laptop, students and teachers would still be exposed to viruses and hackers the moment the Windows computer goes online. This is because all Windows computers have a not so hidden “call home” function where the Windows web browser is embedded to the Windows operating system.

But this same Windows Call Home Function is a “back door” used by hackers to attack Windows computers. The most recent example of this problem was the Windows Wanna Cry Ransomware virus that attacked millions of Windows computers in May 2017. Linux is much safer because Linux does not place the Web Browser inside of the operating system. It therefore is much harder for hackers to attack. This is why 90% of all servers, including Windows Azure Cloud servers, now run on Linux. For more information on the benefits of Linux over Windows, see the following website: https://learnlinuxandlibreoffice.org/

In the past, low cost Microsoft laptops have used a 32 GB hard drive – similar to many low cost Chromebooks. However, as we noted above, Windows takes up so much room on the hard drive that there is virtually no room left on a 32 GB SSD for any of the students documents, images, videos or applications. This problem gets worse every month as Windows keeps issuing more “patches” and “updates” in an attempt to block hackers from using the Windows Back Door.

This problem was finally exposed in October, 2018 when Microsoft issued a press release warning owners of low cost Windows computers that the Windows 10 October 2018 Automatic Update would require ALL of the space on a 32 GB drive. Failure to remove all personal files, images and videos will result in 32 GB drives used on typical student computers to crash. Since these drives are used mainly in low cost student and school computers, the ones who will suffer the most from this update are students and schools. Schools with low cost Windows laptops will face a nightmare in October 2018.

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Several articles have been written about this update. Many ended by recommending that students and schools switch to low cost Chromebooks. Other articles recommended replacing the SSD hard drive on 32 GB laptops with a 64 GB SSD. The cost of a cheap 64 GB SSD is only about $40. Of course, replacing the SSD is only possible if the SSD is not soldered to the mother board. Sadly, as noted above, most low cost laptops use EMMC drives – all of which are soldered to the board.

So the only real solution to the October 2018 Windows 10 update is to place all of your documents on an external drive and then replace the Windows operating system with the Linux Mint operating system. This does take about one hour. But at least it is free.

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For instructions on how to install Linux onto a computer, see our website: https://learnlinuxandlibreoffice.org/

Now that we better understand the problems of low cost Windows computers, let’s take a closer look at the least expensive Windows laptops. One of the least expensive Windows 10 laptops is the Acer Aspire E 15, the Asus VivoBook Flip 14 which retails for $400 but can be bought for $300. While it has a 64 GB hard drive, the hard drive is an EMMC drive that is soldered to the mother board. It also has no USB port.

Here are some quotes from users:

“It is just awful! Black comes out dark gray and move 10-20 degrees up down or left right and the colors and details immediate change and eventually washout or blackout. Using it for just 15 minutes started giving me a headache.”

“After 2 weeks of use, one of the hinges became misaligned rendering it unable to be closed without breaking it.”

“What a total disappointment. Purchased this lap top for my daughter. She needed it for on line classes with Purdue. She set it all up and 15 minutes before her orientation started it died. Dead! Nothing... contacted tech support and they couldn't do anything.”

“Switched to Win 10 Pro from S right away. It took about 2.5 hours to complete. It had 38 GB free on the HD while in S mode, but after switching to Pro, it only has 13 GB free. I tested the latest release of Ubuntu (18.04) on it and it runs well. Everything works. The only negative thing I can say about this laptop is the lack of storage space after switching to Pro, but that is because Windows 10 is so bloated.”

“I wouldn't buy this due to the flash drive is so small and it keeps trying update and there is no room for the update. You can't stop the updates from downloading. I needed this to take exams on-line so I figured the small drive would be ok. But I was wrong. Don't buy this or HP. You get what you pay for. It's too late to send back. I have exams due.”

“The computer has done nothing but update - and not just once, but constantly. It will update, restart, sit for a couple minutes, then repeat. It occurred for several hours straight yesterday - and I've only had the device for a week. When it wasn't updating, I was getting the "blue screen of death".”

“It barely functions! I can’t even scroll through Facebook without having serious delays. I would click on the screen and the mouse would be several inches away all the time, so I would have to click in a different area on the screen to get the mouse where I wanted it.”

“It will not connect to the Internet no matter how many professionals have looked at it. I bought it because I needed a computer for college, and it did not fulfill. I feel like I just wasted 350 dollars of my own money and the amount of hours I worked to buy that laptop. I'm very disappointed.”

What about the HP Stream 14 Laptops?
Amazon sells the HP Stream 14 Laptop for $212. It appears as if it will run Windows because it has 4 GB of RAM and an Intel Celeron processor. However, it suffers from one fatal flaw: it only has 32 GB on the hard drive and the hard drive is an EMMC soldered to the mother board – meaning there is no way to fix this problem. As a consequence, hundreds of people have written questions asking for a fix. Often they are told to simply install Linux Mint – which will free up more than 20 GB on this hard drive. In addition, there are more than 460 One Star reviews from folks who bought this poorly designed laptop and are trying to warn others not to make the same mistake. This is the largest number of negative reviews I have ever seen for any product.

Here are just a couple of examples:

“WARNING With just Windows 10, Firefox and Thunderbird e-mail installed, there is not enough room left on the hard drive for Windows 10 updates. We get constant warnings and reminders, but I can't see a way out of this problem. Once I reformat and install Linux Mint with the Cinnamon desktop, this should be a great little computer for my wife. I have used Linux on my "big" computer for a year, and love it!”

“It crashed multiple times during set up, this should have told me something. The hard drive (if you can call it that) couldn't even handle the initial Windows update. Only has 32 GB hard drive. It's what you would call a "throw away" laptop -- good only for a few months before throwing it out.”

“This laptop isn't fit for big sized Microsoft updates, big files, or large apps. Because of lack of storage space, I had to strip my laptop to the bare minimum of applications just to keep it from not working properly. A total piece of junk.”

“The 32GB drive which can't be replaced with a larger one is no longer large enough to even hold the operating system. The latest win 10 home update I tried to receive was 10 GB! I don't have enough room to download it let alone install the updates.”

“For the Love of God stay away from these Stream laptops with 32GB of disk space. For two years I have been struggling with various Windows Updates.”

“The Fall Creators Update is so huge that the updates are now completely impossible to install due to lack of space. Yesterday I was forced to replace Windows with Linux Mint MATE. Unlike Windows, Linux only uses about 8GB of disk space and doesn't suck up all the CPU processing and RAM space, so the laptop is much speedier.”

The only other option I could find for under $400 was the Dell Inspiron 11. It had a very slow spinning hard drive and a low resolution screen. Windows 10 would be very slow on any laptop using a spinning hard drive. You need at least an EMMC drive and preferably an SSD drive for Windows 10.

What is the lowest cost Windows computer that will actually work?
The least expensive Windows laptop I could find that would actually handle the Windows 10 operating system and all the applications a student is likely to need was the Acer Aspire E 15 which Amazon sells for $600. It uses an Intel Core i5 processor, 8 GB RAM and has a removable 256 GB SSD Drive. It also has a reasonable battery and a 15 inch high resolution screen. In short, it is very similar to the Linux Laptop I am typing on right now – which I got for $80. The SSD has enough space that you could have both the Windows and Linux operating systems on it (called Dual Booting).

The Acer Aspire E 15 is the laptop I would recommend if you think you need a Windows laptop. Alternately, you could buy an Acer Chromebook 15, replace the 32 GB SSD with a 256 GB SSD and then put Windows and/or Linux on that for a cost of under $300.

Conclusion
All students deserve to learn on dependable, reliable, functional computers that are easy to use. With all of the benefits of Chromebooks, it is no wonder that more than 40 million Chromebooks have been sold to schools, parents, students and teachers just here in the US during the past few years. The biggest drawback to Chromebooks is the need to replace the Chrome operating system with a real Linux operating system. Sadly, many schools fail to replace the limited operating system with a more functional operating system – leaving students with the incorrect impression that Chromebooks are limited to online usage. At the same time, while assembling Raspberry Pi computers might be an interesting exercise for some students in some courses, it is far more important to teach all students how to use application programs such as word processors, coding editors, image editors and video editors – and teach them these skills on fully functioning laptops like the Acer Chromebook 11 or Chromebook 15 – a laptop they can use at school, at work and in their future college courses. Raspberry Pi laptops may be much better than they were a few years ago. But they still have a long way to go before they will be as functional as an inexpensive Chromebook.

Questions and/or Comments?
Feel free to email me…

Regards, David Spring M. Ed.

Springforschools (at) gmail (dot) com